Story by Robert Yellin
First Published Honoho Geijutsu #63, Summer 2000
Work by Sakai Kobu
Photo courtesy Honoho Geijutsu
There are so many potters in Japan compared to other countries and in that vast number there are some hidden treasures. Within the human heart there are also hidden treasures that sometimes are discovered, but more often are left buried somewhere deep in the well of the spirit.
How do we uncover such hidden places? Well, one way is to have some free time each day, not nine years of mediation like the Daruma though, but to sit with a cup of tea (or sake!) whenever possible and simply sit -- like the Daruma.
This Bizen Daruma is from the Meiji period and has a stern, yet gentle face. Around his feet are four Shino guinomi by one of Japan's above-mentioned undiscovered potter treasures.
Sakai Kobu has been at the wheel for about 40 years in the hills of Toki city, Gifu prefecture, the birthplace of Shino. A self-taught man, Sakai has a modest character and a gentle laugh, like I imagine the Daruma to have had. As a matter of fact, Sakai's kodai (guinomi foot) resemble the outline of a Daruma. Since Sakai is self-taught, he had no sensei (teacher) to emulate when he first was carving a kodai. This freedom led him to discover his own way of doing things, which is very evident in his original, full of personality, kodai.
And the luscious tenmoku-like glaze that he uses with splashes of white is deep with flavor and power. The flashes of white look like an aurora borealis and I never tire of looking at this landscape when I'm drinking from a Sakai guinomi.
Inside there is a mini-ocean with waves of glaze flowing and crashing in the mikomi. The shape is full, rounded, and natural. Sakai makes high-walled, and low, shallow guinomi like the soft white, peach colored rimmed one pictured here.
Shino has become a favorite style of mine, but many potters, good though they may be, only produce copies of past forms. That is fine, I'm not criticising that, but it's nice to have a breath of fresh air once in awhile.
Sakai lives near some old Momyama kiln sites and I believe the wind that has blown from there carrying the silent voices of Shino potters long gone has been his best teacher.
I can imagine myself sitting in his yard with a cup of tea and quietly feeling that wind blow all around me like the voice of Daruma or potters long past.
Sakai may be a bit ahead of his time and it may take us awhile to discover the treasure potter that he is.